Wednesday, June 24, 2015


breathe out pain; breathe in peace.
breathe out hurt; breathe in healing.
breathe out loneliness; breathe in love.
breathe out sadness; breathe in strength.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Like a stack of stones

I moved into my apartment in August. It's the first time I've ever lived alone.

There are a lot of things I relish about living alone, but one reigns queen: the knowledge that there is always a hallowed place tucked away from the world (minus the sounds of the 4 a.m. bar across the street, and all the cars) where I will not have to wear pants.

I'm not big on pants. I wear skirts almost every day. I like jeans, but only the thin skinny stretchy kind that feel like leggings. I bought a pair of slacks a few weeks ago, and basically the only thing they're good for is stretching my usual work wardrobe rotation out by an extra uncomfortable day. Suffice it to say that if I'm not in a situation where pants are mandatory, I probably won't wear them.

And definitely not at home.

Nights when I don't have to be anywhere (or anywhere til later in the evening) are my absolute favorite. I strut back from the brown line like the sidewalk is being built by the force of my steps. I blast music and pretend I'm Alison Mosshart. I jangle my keys so you know I'm coming. I check my mailbox. Like. A. Boss.

Sometimes I step inside my doorway, strip to my underwear, turn my music up louder, and dance. I spin gypsy circles in the hall on top of my clothes. I stomp and pounce and throw my arms around like a mime on mushrooms. (The neighbors love me.)

If you've never done it, do. It's so good. Like, good enough to be in a rom-com montage. Only in this movie, the romance is with yourself. Just you, dancing, Sundance-approved.

I've learned in my quarter-century of life that it's really important to love yourself, for two reasons: the obvious first one is that you never know who else is gonna be in love with you at a given time, and it could even be no one. The second one, and the one that's taken me much longer to figure out, is that loving yourself makes you a whole lot lovelier to the people you love. You can't take care of people til you care for yourself.

The fundamental human reality is to be alone. Sometimes you get to a point where you realize you could entirely drop off the face of the earth and very few people -- if any -- would notice. Knowing, and gradually accepting, this is what I think is the key to happiness. For every mysteriously ancient pet goldfish there's a half dozen that died within the first three days. For every genuine, supportive friend there's at least a half dozen who couldn't come to something or other because they wanted to watch Netflix together without you. For every love of your life there's probably a minimum of a half dozen assholes. Accept it. Love them anyway.

This all adds up to a lot of people talking. A lot of noise. Squinting through the clatter, I've noticed a few things that seem like simple truths:

1) Life means something.
2) Not everyone's will look the same.
3) Some of the people you love do not love you back.
4) Some of the people you love do love you back but are broken, like you.
5) As long as you love, even if you are alone, you are never a waste.

How does it feel to be on your own, like a stack of stones?

Perhaps our lives are signals. Signs.

Perhaps the purpose of being stuck on the ground is to be better able to see the whole sky.

So take your stupid pants off and look up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The low, quiet hum.

"Don't depend on anyone too much in this world, because even your own shadow leaves you when you are in darkness." - Ibn Taymiyyah

There's a lot of advice out there about what to do when your heart gets broken. Move on, but not too fast. Let yourself grieve, but don't dwell. Talk to your friends about it, but don't be a downer.

What they don't tell you about heartbreak is the forgetting. Not that you'll forget the pain -- because pain is a total asshole. Pain is the oblivious party guest who keeps you up til 6 a.m. and then has the balls to take home the leftover booze. Pain is designed exclusively, I think, to burrow deep and multiply and linger as long as possible, like bedbugs.

The forgetting begins with the little things, like how his skin feels, or how he sits at the computer, or the things he doesn't like about you. The faint smell of cigarettes always lingering in his hair. How everything he produces looks a certain way, so that whenever it sneaks into your Facebook feed you can spot it as easily as a Gustav Klimt or a Norman Rockwell. How good he looks in sweaters. How hard he works. They don't tell you that over time you will forget the urgency of these things until you come across them again. But they are always hiding in the tiniest crevices of your mind, waiting for the dark to come again so they can crawl out and bite reminders into you.

They don't tell you about the slow, alone plod, where the details fade but the feelings -- of inadequacy, of helplessness, of not-good-enough -- settle in for the long haul. That days where you are able to keep yourself from crying on public transportation or walking around your city instead of just alone in your home can become the small victories you cling to. That you'll have a whole section of your brain cordoned off as the designated "sad girl" section, yet at the same time you look at the ropes around it and laugh at yourself for being so emo. But it helps. Compartments help.

They don't tell you you'll have days when you feel totally strong and sassy and over it, then without warning, a softball of memories hits you square in the gut, and you're unceremoniously carted back to square one, like the sorriest game of Sorry ever.

They don't tell you that your friends really do get tired of hearing about it, or even if they don't, you feel so pathetic and guilty for bringing it up again that you just..can't.

Don't depend on anyone too much in this world, because then inevitably, for one reason or another, you will have to miss them.

Even your own shadow leaves you in the dark.

The low, quiet hum of loss never does.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Curry curry curry curry rockin' everywhere.

Sunday nights at home working on projects are my favorite kind of night. My most recent Sunday night list included the following:

  • Work on illustrations for my novel (yep. I'm that girl).
  • Decorate my boring-ish dining room light fixture. (I say boring-ish because it's not, it's an interesting '40s-era pendant situation with five bulbs spread out like a chandelier. But it wasn't anything that a bunch of borrowed old chandelier crystals from my mom couldn't improve.)
  • Clean my apartment
  • Do laundry (this didn't happen).
  • Eat something comforting because it's way too friggin' cold outside, and make extra to bring to work.

My style of cooking is a lot like the show Chopped, except that instead of a carefully curated basket of licorice, beef tongue and stage fog that I then have to somehow magically transform into an artisanal cocktail, I just look in my fridge and frantically cook everything that is about to go bad if I don't. Last night this included half a jar of Aldi tomato sauce, the last of a tub of plain yoghurt, and a handful of cilantro.

I know what you're thinking: CURRY. (Obviously.)

So I throw a few things in a pan, and after about 20 minutes it looks a bit like this:

Stir it up and add rice for instant yum appeal.

I like food that's similar to my personality: cheap yet complex, and reasonably easy, but with just enough class. I think this fit the bill, except I ate it too fast to be totally sure. YUM.


Cheap Fast 'n Sassy Curry (#vegetarianstyle)

2 T olive or coconut oil
1 c tomato sauce (the more leftover it is, the bigger your bragging rights when you make it tasty again)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion, finely chopped (set aside a little for garnish if you want)

1-2 T each of cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, etc. (you can eyeball this, and don't be terribly afraid of overdoing it)
Dash of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, etc. (I buy a premixed batch of this from my local Arabic store, because Arabs know what's up.)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 c plain yoghurt (plus more to top)
1-2 T butter (optional)
Handful each of chopped cilantro (save some for garnish), cashews and raisins
S&P to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onions and garlic, stirring until just translucent. Add the tomato sauce and let simmer for 10 minutes or so. Add the spices and stir. (If you wanna get extra fancy you can toast them separately in a dry skillet to release the aromas. I am too lazy for this.)

Dump in the chickpeas and simmer for 10 more minutes. Then add the remaining ingredients, stir and allow to simmer for 5-30 minutes (depends on how patient you are).

Serve with rice and/or naan and top with extra yoghurt, cilantro and onions. Devour. (But save a little bit, because it's even better the next day.)

Here's to Sunday.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My bed.

My bed is huge. It's an island, covered in a white comforter like snow. My weird cozy snowy island. And my bed is unique because, if you can lift what feels like five hundred pounds by one end, you can fold the whole thing into a closet and bolt it in for safekeeping.

Every time I lift it, though, I have to leverage it on my thighs halfway up, giving me pancake-sized bruises that are tender to the touch and linger on my legs for a week or more. I have always bruised easily. So most of the time I leave the bed down, dominating the main room of my studio apartment, crowding my piano and guitars toward the opposite wall, but at least making up for the unfortunate reality that I'm 25 and live alone and still don't own a couch. I think in the three or so months since it was built for me I've put it away about as many times.

Today when cancelled plans gave me leeway to do stuff around my apartment, rather than sit around reading my new Amy Poehler book, I decided to finally paint the groady inside of the closet my bed folds into. Since the bed is almost always down, I want this to look nice. I'm making a wall hanging with chains of this beautiful Nepalese paper that I'm going to put up over the bed, along with Christmas lights (for cheap but foolproof ambiance). A Millennial's Pinterest board come true.

But first! Paint.

I dig up rollers and trays and brushes, and the nearly empty can of paint we used on the rest of the room, and I start getting ready to work.

Most people see creation, remodeling, sprucing-up as a forward movement. When all your tools still belong to someone you loved and who left, though, it feels a little closer to going backwards. But everything reminds me of him, including my bed-island, which he built for me. So out of necessity I'm getting used to it.

I dump the paint into the tray and attach an extension and start rolling. Instantly, memories. "You don't have to push hard at all," he always would tell me. "It should just roll on." I remembered how he could paint a whole room in under an hour while I just slowly followed along, carefully doing the edging and the detailing, which were more my forte. I felt like such a dipshit sometimes because I wasn't handy and he was so good at everything. But sometimes I'd catch him pausing to watch me carefully brush paint down a thin strip of wall, and I'd giggle, and he'd softly say "you're just so pretty all the time," and in that moment as he looked at me so lovingly I would feel like a bodacious powerful Amazon woman. Special, because I was capable.

I peeled ivory flakes off of my fingers as I went along, remembering how we stood together in the Home Depot picking out paint colors. Me, completely overwhelmed yet excited, in the way I imagine a Martian child feels during her first time in an earthling candy store. Him, at-home among all the tools and knick-knacks and thingamawhatsits, not understanding my confusion, used to building me things.

He was always building and fixing things for me. Painting walls, hanging curtains, probing down into underexamined cavities of my mind and trying to scrape out the old insecurities still molding down there, or kicking in the carefully constructed walls that guard my heart, and replacing them with glass, so he would always be able to look inside.

He was the first person who ever cared enough to really, truly insist on knowing all of who I was. In a world where women are expected to be timid and modest, he was the first person who would get upset with my knee-jerk diplomacy and the way I rarely say my opinions out loud. I always admired the accuracy with which he could survey me and tell me where I should reinforce the floors and where there was just outdated window-dressing to be done away with. I have always been too comfortable with imperfection and frailty to have the same ability. I am too accepting of people as they are. Only recently have I started to see this as a bad thing.

I cannot describe in words how much I always loved watching him work. The way the muscles in his arms moved, his broad shoulders and strong forearms, the look of complete and uninterruptable focus on his face. The way his magic hands could make anything appear. The palpable sense of purpose that reminded me of how I was as a child, always coming up with new projects, exploring, making things up on the fly -- how I was before I learned to hide. His dark eyes as he constantly checked, and rechecked, and stepped back to look, and then kept working, always kept working, without rest, insatiable, until it was done.

He loved his work, and I loved to see the way he lost himself in it. I loved my layers and the way he insisted on tearing through them, because as long as I could be his project, I knew he would be lost in me.

I loved being his mystery, and his muse; he, my coach and protector. If he were the brain, with its brilliance, then I was the heart, quiet and wild. It worked great for awhile... until suddenly it didn’t anymore. Being for someone else what they should be for themselves is exhausting.

But no one can say we didn’t try. In fact, trying can be addicting. Being wronged and righted and wronged again is how I imagine heroin feels -- you know how bad it is for you, but you forget how to live without the rush. You romanticize the tempests, pretend you’re Diego and Frida. A real couple. Not one of those boring suburbanite ones. Everything is heightened -- the bad, but also the good. It’s not always easy, but it’s not settling. You have your person. Someone who so completely enchanted you from day one that even your skeptic’s mind was finally forced to admit for the first time since birth that love at first sight does exist.

In the end, you are the lucky ones. You have real passion. When you have passion, you can go months in a cycle of trying. You can pick up again so easily:

I love you.

(You sit on the floor of your new, still-empty apartment and weep together in each other’s arms.)

I’m sorry.

(Crying turns to kissing. The bare floorboards bruise your knees and hips and back.)

I want us to work. We can get through this. I love you. I’m sorry.

(Suddenly you’re running drunk through Welles Park, barefoot, holding hands.)

Let’s go to Vegas. Tonight. I have to marry you. I love you.

(Now you’re falling asleep together, holding hands. He tells you this is the first time he could fall asleep like that.)

Maybe we’ll go tomorrow. I’m sorry.

(The bruises fade. He builds you the bed, but stops reaching for your hand.)

I’m busy this weekend.

(Then silence.)

I think I’m depressed.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

(Then you wait, until...)

I think it’s you.

(Stomach and heart trade places.)

I think I can’t do this anymore.


I think I hate you.

(Then, after the cruel name-calling ends,


You cry and you rage, but you know it’ll be okay again in a few weeks, or months. You could do this over and over again. You both know this isn’t normal, but neither of you has ever really had to work at a relationship before, so you’re not sure what is. And really, this gets much easier each time.

I looked down at the nearly empty paint tray and realized I had been so lost in my thoughts that the wall was done. It hadn't even been 15 minutes. I guess I did learn a thing or two after all. If only he could see me working alone like this. He'd be proud.

I washed the paint off the roller and tray in my bathtub. My leaky old faucet ran the water faster than it could drain out of the tub, leaving me with a bath full of water like milk. It looked oddly alluring, reminiscent of the goats' milk that mythical maidens bathed in to stay youthful. I wondered for a moment if bathing in this particular mix would similarly make me stronger. If only it were so easy to be stronger. Perhaps then I could have kept him.

Some people, though, have a unique ability to bring out our weakness. Mine, for example, built me a bed I can barely lift, but I'm the one who feels weak as a result. It's a pretty apt metaphor, actually.

It's widely accepted that if you make yourself a bed, you have to lie in it. They're a little shorter on details for when one has been made for you. There have been many times in my life when I could simply forget everything and wipe the slate clean and just start over, fresh-faced, feeling strong, feeling invincible, when in hindsight really I just hadn't cared that much in the first place. This, on the other hand, is new territory for me.

Moving forward when everything reminds you of someone it killed you to lose is a lot like trying to wade through chest-deep water: every step you can manage washes you a little cleaner, but it doesn't make the process any less torturous.

When you're struggling upstream so much that even your greatest effort only keeps you in the same spot, it's hard to see that as strength, but really, it is the strongest most bodacious powerful Amazon woman thing you could ever do for yourself.

You can get used to being left. But I don’t think you ever get used to being alone.

I'm learning to find my strength in the reminders, huge and heavy as they are. Fresh coats of paint make this island more mine.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If you want to make the desert bloom, stop burning all the olive trees

"I have no words to describe what's going on in here. It's awful. Just know that your solidarity means the world to me. And it does make a difference. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Tell the world what is happening."

These words from a friend in Gaza made me feel like absolute shit. One, that it's happening, and two, that I can't really do a thing about it.

I've had several people in the past two weeks or so ask me about what's going on in Gaza. The prevailing sentiment among most all of them is not only a desire to know more, but also a very clear frustration with all the apparent mixed messages there are out there about this conflict.

The frustration is an understandable one that I completely relate to. Especially when I first began to look into the conflict for myself, the disconnect between interpretations is disorienting.

Eventually, though, after you've ingested enough soundbytes from enough different voices, you can get a sense in the middle of a few objective facts:

1. Israel is a state that does not grant full rights to certain citizens on the basis of their ethnicity.
2. Israel is a state that prevents even basic rights to non-citizens living in territory it governs and subjects them to a constant campaign of intimidation, occupation and land-grabbing in the name of "security."
3. Israel is a state whose idea of "proportionality" and "restraint" is, to use the most recent example, >600 dead Palestinians for >30 dead Israelis.

I never want to be in a position of "keeping score" in these matters, but the numbers do show an undeniable imbalance of power and lack of restraint. Allegations of "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing" are not buzzwords meant just to get attention, or exaggerations made out of baseless insidious hatred of a religious group. They are an accurate assessment of clear policies that have been in effect for decades and have only made things worse.

Those who point toward Hamas and its rockets as the reason why Palestinian civilians are being slaughtered must not have been paying attention to the thousands of Palestinians that Israel needed little excuse to slaughter long before Hamas and its rockets even existed. The fact is that the backbone of Israel's creation in 1948 was a clear agenda of ethnic cleansing. It was the belief put into practice that one group could only be safe in the land if the other was removed, or at least sufficiently removed so as to ensure a demographic supremacy. Until this injustice is addressed, there will never be an opportunity to move forward.

There was a time in Palestine, not even that long ago, when all its inhabitants coexisted. When Jews were safe to flourish and prosper while elsewhere they were being slaughtered by the millions. Today, Israel might just be the most dangerous place for a Jewish person to live in the whole world -- the direct and tragic result of the unsustainable policies of the Zionist movement.

There was also a time when the mention of places like South Africa, Northern Ireland or Brussels conjured up the same feelings of despair and unsolvable conflict we feel now over Israel and Palestine -- and today the mention of these places barely raises an eyebrow. These places and others not only provide hope, but also a helpful model of how this conflict might once and for all be resolved in a way that actually respects the rights of all involved.

We all have our differences, but certain things I really feel are universal. Children playing on a beach. People eating together at sunset. Watching out for your neighbors. Worrying about your family when they are in harm's way.

If you want to get beyond the propaganda, talk to the people. Listen to the stories you haven't heard before. I've noticed humans are so impervious to statistics and so immune to arguments. What we understand, and what I think are most important, are stories and faces.

After all, it's the people who need to live.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Let's talk about "body image."

I grew up chubby. Not anywhere near obese. But enough that people made sure I knew. And I didn't need much help to know.

When I hit 14 I started to slim down. But I never stopped seeing myself as the chubby kid. If you were one too, you'll understand how that changes you.

And now I will admit something publicly that to this point I have only told a few close friends: I am an anorexic.

I would say "recovered anorexic," but through my own experience and reading about others, I really feel like a tendency toward disordered eating is something that sticks with you pretty much forever and can only be managed. I know at least that I never fully got rid of the compulsion. Currently I channel it into being a vegetarian. (When asked, I usually say it's because of environmental or animal welfare concerns -- and certainly that's part of it. But really it's because it's the best way I've found to keep myself eating healthily and enough while still putting parameters on myself that feel necessary to me.)

Looking back on my life, I have found that the times I was most compulsively unhealthy in my relationship with food were the times I felt the least empowered in other areas of my life. Make no mistake, this was never about food for me -- it was always about control. (This makes me a pretty textbook case, I've heard.) I am generally health-conscious in what I eat and I genuinely enjoy healthy food. But when I was in the throes of a disordered phase I did not eat healthy. I remember in high school I went for a stretch of time subsisting on pickles and popcorn. And then I might stop for awhile, and then something would happen and I'd start again. In my freshman year of college it was tomato soup and popcorn. Junior year of college it was V8 juice and carrot sticks, as well as one day a week of total fasting except for water (which I remember totally loving at the time). I can still rattle off exactly how many calories are in each of these items per serving, as easily as I remember my date of birth or SSN.

This is all stuff you've probably heard or read before. But I share this experience to add this hopefully slightly newer angle into the mix:

Not every anorexic is thin to the point that people invite them on Oprah or put them in the hospital. In fact I imagine that there are many like me -- relatively functional and not losing so much weight that it causes real alarm. I'm 5'7" and typically wear a size 6 or 8. My junior year of college, which was probably my worst bout in that I was eating virtually no carbohydrates or protein on top of exercising like a crazy woman (the whole thing initiated by a breakup with someone who had criticized my weight), I still only got down to around a size 2. I remember my classmates telling me how great I looked.

So when you're talking about eating disorders, be really careful about assuming who does and doesn't have one. It's probably a lot more of your friends than you even realize. I was a pro at talking about positive body image, even when my journal was full of entries painstakingly recording what had gone into each day's 200 allotted calories. (The most fucked-up part of this is that most of what I knew about anorexia was from TV specials about girls who had panic attacks over communion wafers, so in a twisted way, I thought what I was doing was okay in comparison.)

This is how I looked after maybe two months of subsisting on water, V8 and daily hours-long workouts. I almost look healthy...right?

This is the kind of "what the hell was I thinking" experience that today gives me compassion for myself, and for anyone who has ever looked in the mirror and thought things like my life would be fine if only I were thinner, or I'm disgusting, or any variant of these horrible thoughts.

This is also the kind of experience that, when people see images of especially thin women and say things like "go eat a cheeseburger" or "real women have curves," I really just want to punch them in the fucking face. I don't understand why this pendulum needs to keep swinging. The whole point is that health, just like illness, has no one specific "look," and frankly people should just know better by now.

I also share my history to say that the secret to preventing eating disorders is not to be found in "awareness campaigns" or on the backs of Dove body wash. I was a precocious kid raised by a badass journalist mom on feminism and organic granola and "all women are princesses" and all that good stuff. I was constantly reminded that every size is beautiful, inner beauty is what counts, etc. etc. etc. And in the end it still didn't keep me from genuinely believing that I would be better/prettier/more liked/more desirable if I only made myself smaller.

I won't pretend to know what the secret is. But I do know that in my worst days dealing with this condition, the bulk of the stuff I remembered were the everyday little ways people show -- not tell -- that overweight people don't matter to them the way thin people do. I remembered quitting dance in 6th grade because my classmate made fun of how I looked in my leotard. But I also remembered being out to dinner and feeling myself nearly ignored while the waiter invested all his enthusiasm in a thinner friend. I remember seeing my naturally thin older sister in her prom dress and thinking I'd never be half that beautiful unless I was thin too.

I've heard the term "microaggression" used in the context of racism, and I think it's an apt term to use for how people sometimes treat overweight individuals as well. So if I can say anything of value here (and I'm addressing this to myself as well), it's this: look at people. Make eye contact. With everyone. I think we have a tendency to avoid looking at people who are overweight because we don't want anyone to think we're gawking.

But it's a little bit like that Louie episode where "fat girl" Vanessa explains to Louie that the worst possible thing to say to a fat girl is "you're not fat." These well-meaning lies, and their subtler sibling the "I'm looking away because of course I'm not noticing you at all because you're not fat" eye dart, carry more hurt in them than any blatant insult. It is the fastest way to confirm to a person who (trust me) already knows or even just thinks they are fat that yes, it really is a shameful thing to be.

I guess like most modern-day ills, the solution basically comes down to "don't be a dick." And that includes to yourself.

Also, my boss just brought me a giant chocolate chip cookie. I ate the whole thing.


Here's to Wednesday.